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Napoli v AC Milan: Sarri´s men eye swift return to summit

Juventus’ failure to beat Bologna has afforded Napoli the opportunity to quickly return to the top of Serie A, but they must negotiate their way past an in-form AC Milan to do so.

Maurizio Sarri’s men were displaced at the summit by champions Juve after losing last week’s top-of-the-table encounter 1-0 in heart-breaking fashion to Simone Zaza’s deflected 88th-minute goal.

However, Juve’s 15-match winning run in the top flight came to an end as Massimiliano Allegri’s side played out a goalless draw at Bologna on Friday.

Napoli now welcome Milan to Stadio San Paolo on Monday knowing that three points will send them top of the league.

The hosts head into the match needing to improve in front of goal, though, having followed the Juve defeat with a 1-0 reverse at Villarreal in the Europa League last-32 first leg on Thursday.

Critics have pointed to a lack of goal threat if Gonzalo Higuain, who has 24 league goals, fails to find the target and the 1-0 losses added some weight to those claims.

The Argentina striker is set to come back into the starting XI to boost their goal threat having started on the bench alongside the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Raul Albiol against Villarreal.

Opponents Milan have found their groove in recent weeks, in part down to a tactical switch to 4-4-2 with M’Baye Niang partnering Carlos Bacca up front.

Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was facing uncertainty over his future at San Siro, but a run of just one loss in 12 league outings has moved them up to sixth and just six points adrift of the Champions League places.

There is further motivation for Milan in Naples considering they were battered 4-0 by Napoli in October’s reverse fixture, with Insigne scoring twice.

And centre-back Alex, while noting the quality in Napoli’s ranks, is desperate to show Milan are a different side to the one that suffered that rout.

“It was difficult for us to forget that night,” he told Corriere dello Sport.

“The result was really hard on us, especially because it was at San Siro. Now we must give a response in the League, to prove we are very different to the side people saw in that game.

“We will need to be very wary, as Higuain is right now one of the best strikers in the world. 

“I played with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and I can tell you Higuain has the same character and charisma.

“It’s difficult, but if we want to finish third in Serie A then we must put in a great defensive performance at the San Paolo. We tend to score at least one goal.”


Key Opta stats:

– Napoli’s 4-0 win at San Siro was their biggest victory over AC Milan in Serie A.
– Napoli have won of their last four home league meetings against AC Milan, drawing the other. 
– Milan have collected 14 points in the last six Serie A matchdays – only Juventus (18) and Napoli (15) have won more in that period.
– Napoli have lost none of their six Serie A games played after a Europa League round this season, winning five of these – including the reverse fixture against AC Milan.
– Gonzalo Higuain has scored three goals in his two Serie A games at the San Paolo against Milan, including one of his four headed goals in the Italian top flight.

Sat 20 Feb, 2016
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